|MERS Deaths and Infections (chart)|
As previously reported, the four newest cases involve 55 and 38 year old men, both with underlying medical conditions and two family members who had been in close contact with the 38 year old, a seven year old girl and a sixteen year old boy, both without symptoms. (see Asymptomatic MERS Cases Reported in Saudi Children).
The mysterious virus, which was first recognized in Saudi Arabia last year, is a corona virus related to the common cold and a genetic cousin to SARS. It is believed to be carried by an animal host and tests of wild and domestic animals have been ongoing.
A similar strain was found in camels in Oman and Spain and a possible match from bat feces in Saudi Arabia, near the area of the original outbreak.
CIDRAP reports that questions about these possible intermediary hosts have been raised by scientists. Testing of camels in Saudi Arabia, ground zero for the outbreak, has not shown the virus in that population.
Genetic material collected from Egyptian Tomb Bat feces may not be a large enough sample to be sure it matches the MERS virus and not just a common sequence found in many viruses. Researchers feel that if the virus was active in the animal, higher levels would be present. Questions have also been raised about the collection and handling of the sample. For now, the search continues for the source for the virus and possible intermediary animal hosts.